McLEAN, VA (December 19, 2000) ¿ Buoyed by a strong showing from the hard goods sector, early season sales of snow sports products were ahead of last year by 1.7 percent, according to the SnowSports Industries America’s first Retail Audit of the winter. In dollars, that works out to $297 million in sales in the first reporting period (Aug.1-Oct. 31, 2000) of the season compared to $292 million in 1999 and $275 million in 1998. The Retail Audit tracks and reports sales in all snow sports product categories for the period.

This is the first of six Audits that will look at sales through March 31, 2001, the end of the winter season. This report looks at apparel sales at the retail level. Equipment, or hardgoods, sales were reported previously. The accessories sales report is expected next week. While the overall industry is up, due to an increase in equipment sales, late deliveries depressed apparel sales across the board.

“At the end of October, inventories had more than 700,000 fewer pieces delivered than last season, and a lot of that arrived at the end of the month,” said Jim Spring of Leisure Trends Group, the research firm that prepares the annual Retail Audit for SIA.

“The downer this fall was that deliveries of apparel were late. That can be overcome,” said Spring. “The fact is that skiers and riders are buying later in the season and the strongest selling season is now post December. The evidence is clear that consumers are delaying their purchases until they are sure there will be snow where they go. February through March has been the biggest retail sales period in each of the last two years.”

Apparel started to arrive at the shops along with winter weather, which created an optimism for the rest of the season. “The single most important catalyst is the cold weather,” said Mike White, general manager of Hoigaard’s, Minneapolis. “When it’s 60 degrees outside, you can’t even give away gloves and hats.”

Specialty stores suffer

Sales of all products at specialty stores for the period were $226 million, compared to $225 million in 1999, a .6 percent increase. But in apparel, specialty store sales were $62.7 million, down 8.5 percent compared to 1999. In specific categories: alpine tops were down 8 percent to $40.7 million compared to 1999; alpine bottoms dropped 18 percent to $9.4 million; snowboard apparel fell 4 percent to $9.6 million; snowboard tops were down 15 percent to $5.6 million; and snowboard bottoms went up 6 percent to $3.1 million.

The bright spot in apparel sales at specialty stores were junior products: junior insulated alpine parkas were up 33 percent to $3.4 million; junior alpine bottoms were up 16 percent to $1.5 million; junior snowboard tops were up 23 percent to $638,000; and junior snowboard bottoms pulled ahead 73 percent to $369,000.

“Our pre-season was really encouraging and so far, we’ve had a good season. People are excited,” said David Fabris, manager, The Ski Company Mountain Sports, Rochester, N.Y. “All our clothing categories are doing well. People are coming in and making purchases.”

Chain Store Sales Up

All sales at chain stores were $71 million, a 5.5 percent increase over 1999′s $67 million. Chain stores had sales of $69 million for the 1998 period. In apparel last fall, chain store sales were $26.6 million, up 16 percent over 1999. In the categories: alpine tops were up 17 percent to $20.2 million; alpine bottoms fell 8 percent to $4.1 million; snowboard apparel was up 45 percent to $1.8 million; snowboard tops surged 19 percent to $896,000; but snowboard bottoms dropped 4 percent to $385,000.

In junior clothing sales at the chains: insulated alpine parkas were up 57 percent to $1.4 million; alpine bottoms were up 79 percent to $385,000; snowboard tops were up 377 percent to $98,000; and junior snowboard bottoms were up 298 percent to $55,000.

“We’re seeing a lot of women and kids. Thoose markets are super popular,” said Paul Tovar, manager, Dave’s Ski & Snowboard, Tahoe City, Calif. “People coming in are really excited, especially since we’ve had great powder days so far.”